When 2,000 conservative lawmakers from across the country descend on Atlanta today, they are unlikely to know they’re bearing witness to a long-running feud.
The decision by the American Legislative Exchange Council to invite economist and columnist Stephen Moore to speak at its annual meeting, being held this week at the Hyatt Regency, might not have raised many eyebrows.
Not the case for those familiar with Moore’s relationship with Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
After all, Moore, then writing for National Review Online, called for Perdue’s impeachment in 2003 not even a month into the Republican governor’s first term. In the six years since, Moore – who now writes for The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages – has continued to be an occasional critic of the governor’s tax and economic policies.
In a rare interview from his Capitol office Tuesday, Perdue said Moore has been and continues to be off-base.
“I’m not going to say I don’t care, but I don’t read Stephen Moore,” Perdue said.
On Jan. 23, 2003, Moore suggested ending Perdue’s administration before it got started.
“Is there any governor in American history who has gotten off to a more ignominious start than Georgia’s newly elected chief executive Sonny Perdue?” Moore opined after Perdue suggested increasing tobacco taxes to help fill an inherited $600 million budget shortfall.
Perdue eventually pulled part of his tax package, not the tobacco tax hike. Still, he took issue then – and still does – with Moore and his tactics and logic.
“Stephen Moore was wrong on the [tobacco] excise tax,” Perdue said Tuesday. “Our excise tax on cigarettes had not been changed since 1971, when teachers in this state made $7,000 a year. I think Stephen Moore was premature in his criticism. You don’t know what it’s like to balance a budget without any red numbers until you’ve been in that position.”
Moore again slammed Perdue this past May after the governor vetoed a bill that would have eliminated the state’s capital-gains tax. While Perdue approved of much of the bill, the $1.5 billion price tag to cut the capital-gains tax during a global recession does not make sense, he said.
Moore wasn’t impressed. On May 15, he wrote that Perdue “has too many allies among Democratic legislators who share his affection for high taxes.” Efforts to reach Moore this week have been unsuccessful.
The conflict makes this week’s conference more than the usual policy fest. It was not on purpose, ALEC spokesman Jorge Amselle said. Moore and economist Art Laffer will speak at a breakfast meeting Thursday.
“We’ve been working with Steve Moore and Art Laffer for several years now,” Amselle said. “We’ve asked them to speak at our meetings before.”
Much of the dispute surrounds Moore’s embrace of supply-side economics. Its adherents believe cutting taxes ultimately increases tax revenue because the economy is stimulated.
Perdue says Moore’s experience is at the federal level, where government can carry a deficit. Besides, he said, the past three years of plummeting revenue have proven him correct.
“I take no joy in validation of those kinds of things,” Perdue said. “The fact is, I wish our economy was growing so we could afford supply-side cuts.”
Amselle said Moore’s role has changed in the past several years. When he first called for Perdue to be impeached, Moore was president of the Club for Growth, a right-wing economics think tank that often slams fellow Republicans. Moore left the Club for Growth in 2004.
“As far as us being here in Atlanta, these are decisions we make years in advance,” Amselle said. “Our membership here in Georgia is very strong.”
ALEC this week will honor Georgia Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger) with a national leadership award. It was Graves who introduced the job tax credit bill that Perdue vetoed in May.
In addition, Zell Miller, a former Democratic Georgia governor and U.S. senator, will speak, as will former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
ALEC’s annual meeting runs through Saturday.